SIBA - Visual Approaches to Comparative Lifeworld Research in Yugoslavia and Turkey, 1920s and 1930s.

The SIBA project uses press photography to examine how public space in Yugoslavian and Turkish cities changed after World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It takes a fresh and unbiased look at the national awakening and post-Ottoman urbanity of the interwar period and situates them in the European context. In doing so, the project challenges long-held preconceptions about Southeastern Europe and encourages participants to reflect on commonalities and divisions, on the European zeitgeist in the interwar period, and on Oriental 'Otherness'.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the major daily newspapers in southeastern Europe hired in-house photo reporters for the first time. These photographers enthusiastically explored the potential of the new medium of press photography and documented the development of their surroundings. The SIBA project analyzed daily newspapers from Sarajevo, Istanbul, Belgrade, and Ankara (SIBA) and researched the visual archives of well-known and lesser-known photo reporters such as Selahattin Giz, Namik Görgüç, Aleksandar Aca Simic, Svetozar Grdijan as well as Alija Aksamija, who were previously unknown or hardly known to the public. This involved the creation of a database of several thousand images.

Photographs open a direct access to the past. An interesting picture captures the eye and draws the viewer into another time. But working with images historically poses a great challenge. What exactly does a photograph show? When was it taken? Why and for whom? And who pressed the shutter? Learning more about the genesis of photographs is a difficult and time-consuming task that requires considerable research and expertise. Accurate, well-informed answers to the above questions, however, are essential if historical work with photographs is to begin at all.

The SIBA team has invested a great deal of effort in the correct interpretation of photographs gathered from numerous archives, museums, and private collections in Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of particular importance is the team’s close cooperation with specialists on site. Cengiz Kahraman, director of the Istanbul Photography Museum, and Prof. Dr. Mehmed A. Aksamija, professor of photography at the Sarajevo Academy of Art, welcomed our initiative with enthusiasm and acted as important advisors. Both suffer in their own work from the lack of financial and institutional support and appreciation for the preservation of visual heritage in their countries. With the Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, we also carried out the collaborative project Visual Archive Yugoslavia (VAYU), funded through SNF-SCOPES, which addressed problems related tot he digitization of visual sources.

A selection of the processed images is available as a scholarly edition on the online portal Visual Archive Southeastern Europe. In collaboration with the Museum of Yugoslavia (Belgrade), photography specialist Mehmed Aksamija (Sarajevo) and Belgrade artist and designer Igor Stepancic, we also conceived the exhibition Cities on the Move - Post-Ottoman, which allows visitors to experience the urban space of post-Ottoman cities in the interwar period in five thematic units. These are:

•    The city center as a representative stage on which the political elite promoted their national goals.
•    The bazaar district as the economic and social heart of every Ottoman city, where the population met regardless of gender or position.
•    Sports and military as a means of national mobilization for male AND female youth.
•    Clothing as a marker of the social transformation from subjecthood to civil society.
•    The secularization of leisure: the contemporary maxim of a healthy national body encouraged the spread of mass sports. The target group was youth of both sexes; the poor and elderly remained excluded.

The traveling exhibition was on display in Basel, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Istanbul, Graz, Ljubljana, and Zagreb between 2017 and 2019, and was a great public and media success (see publications). Bosnian television made a documentary about it.

In collaboration with the prominent Croatian-Czech director Lordan Zafranovic, we also produced the experimental documentary Zeitgeist, which tells the story of post-Ottoman cities as a series of historical photographs and thus, in the literal sense of the project’s title, visually explores the living environments of post-Ottoman post-war cities and makes them accessible to posterity.

In connection with the SIBA project, several international conferences and workshops have taken place at the University of Basel (see Events). Publications in book form are forthcoming.

SNF project funding: July 2013 to December 2018 (SIBA); July 2015 to July 2018 (VAYU).